“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” Review

If you’re still wondering why superhero movies are still prevalent and prospering in the face of saturation, it’s because many of the Marvel productions are experimenting and venturing down paths less explored for superhero cinema. In a year where Marvel has already shattered expectations with tales of politics (Black Panther) and pathos (Avengers: Infinity War), Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is very much the most daring in scope, visuals, characters, and storytelling. All of this not only makes this movie the best animated film of the year but the best superhero film as well. Continue reading ““Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” Review”

“Ralph Breaks The Internet” Review

While the video game character Ralph expands his personality for breaking and wrecking into the vast landscape of the internet, his new journey comes off as more of a spiffy new coat of adventure than a major bug fix. It still has the same lingering issues of getting a little lost in its references and kicking subplots aside but the heart has been increased two sizes this sequel. It’s also really fun to watch this Disney Animation Studio film once more take jabs at their old tropes. Continue reading ““Ralph Breaks The Internet” Review”

“The Incredibles 2” Review

The screening of Incredibles 2 began with an apologetic thank you from the cast. Yes, it has taken 14 years for Pixar to construct a sequel for their fan-favorite of a film that perfectly blended the family dynamic with superhero theatrics. But as Samuel L. Jackson assures us, it will be worth the wait. He’s not just tooting the Disney horn, nor is the cantankerous writer/director Brad Bird, who returns to the franchise with fresh ideas to flex those old animated filmmaking muscles. And it is every bit as brilliant, exciting, and dazzling as its predecessor.
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“Isle of Dogs” Review

It’s refreshing to see Wes Anderson bring his dark, dry, and gorgeous gift for comedy to the realm of animation. In a medium that seems to favor the two tones of family-friendly romps and festival-friendly art pieces, Isle of Dogs finds that sweet spot in the middle of the fantastical and the absurd. It’s a parable strong enough to sell its lore and weirdness of a dog-centric adventure in the retro-future, but not above having a laugh with the very concept itself. The consistent surrealness places it alongside the likes of Watership Down and Plague Dogs, films that may leave you baffled at how they were approved, but all the more pleased that they were.
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“Coco” Review

Pixar’s best-animated films are the ones that can take you someplace different with visuals you’ve never seen before and storytelling that catches you off guard. In other words, it’s the ones that make the adults weep the most, almost embarrassed that they’d have such feelings for an animated movie with the stigma of being strictly children’s entertainment. Being a big fan of animated films and their limitless potential for filmmaking, there’s no shame in admitting I wept for Coco, an animated movie that is surprisingly mature and honest in its drama of family and death.

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“Wicked City” Review

Taki meets a woman at a bar and takes her back to his place. They start having sex and Taki notices something strange going on with the woman’s legs and arms. Her limbs grow longer and pointier as she tries to ensnare Taki into her vagina that has now bore teeth. Luckily for Taki, he’s accustomed to dealing with monsters such as this, grabbing his gun and forcing her out the window. Now in a more spider-like form, she scurries out the window and down the building. Just another dangerous day in Wicked City.
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“Cars 3” Review

The further this Cars franchise goes, the more creepy and bizarre questions arise, going unanswered. What happens when the cars of this world die? Are they buried in concrete, scrapped in a junkyard or harvested for parts at a hospital? Are there hospitals in this world of cars? Yes, these are all very stupid questions to be asking about a rather silly and simple story about sentient racing cars, but I expect more from Pixar. They’re a studio that usually puts a lot of effort into building their worlds so that I don’t find myself asking how fish talk and why a rat controls a human.
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“Minions” Review

Oh, how the movies of the yellow minions frustrate me so. While Despicable Me was decently cute, its sequel did little to improve on its cheap premise and animation. As such, these movies will never improve and only exist as cute little excuses for squat slapstick. The latest movie with the pill-shaped, pint-sized characters only displays how much more downhill this franchise can go.
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“Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F” Review

While the previous Dragon Ball Z movie managed to win me over by taking a new spin on the fantastical fighting formula, Resurrection F finds the franchise going back to its old bad habits. The villain this time around is the purple-domed alien Frieza, the most powerful warlord of the series that just can’t seem to stay dead. He is once again revived by his crazy zealots and once again seeks out Goku so he can once again get his revenge. This is a character that was once fearsome for controlling the galaxy’s greatest army and more than able to handle any warrior that could be thrown at him. But with this movie marking the second time he’s come back from the dead, he has lost that edge as a worthy antagonist. Even our heroes seem to be underwhelmed by his presence since they already know the outcome.
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“Robot Carnival” (Discotek Release) Review

Robot Carnival acts as a deluxe sampler for the best of Japanese animation. Developed by some of the freshest talent of the late-80’s – most being animators just starting to direct – it’s an anthology film with shorts centering around robots. Some are humanoid androids that interact with humans on dates. Some are human-controlled giants that do battle. And, in the case of the opening titles, some are in giant collectives that plow through towns to announce a movie.

What I found most unique was how Katsuhiro Otomo – one of the most notable names of his anime for directing the landmark animation AKIRA – saddles himself with directing the opening and ending credit sequences. He transforms the title of the movie into a grand machine that roams the lands with an arsenal of robots and explosions. As one of his early animation directing projects, you see his style take shape that would lay the groundwork for his anime future animated features of epic carnage. A robot orchestra provides the soundtrack with musical instruments – the trumpets shooting exploding rockets. A gaggle of robotic ballerinas twirl and descend to the ground where they bow to the populace before exploding. It’s strangely detailed and hauntingly amusing as per Otomo’s trademark style for violence. And that’s just the bookend segments.

Koji Morimoto, an animator who would later work with Otomo as well, takes a stab at robotizing the classic monster story of Frankenstein with “Franken’s Gears”. Through the power of lightning, a mad scientist brings his robotic creation to life with a result both tragic and hilarious. Hidetoshi Omori directs “Deprive”, a heroic tale of one android trying to save his human counterpart from an alien invasion. It’s a decent tale of rescuing the girl with a Terminator-style twist, but it’s more admirable for boiling down its story into a few short minutes. It hits all the right beats for just long enough as not to bore those who have seen this story before.

One element I haven’t mentioned yet is that most of these shorts have zero dialogue. One of the first to actually have some speaking roles is “Presence”, a period romance of a man trying to build female robot to escape his wife and family. And even though there is some dialogue, director Yasuomi Umetsu thankfully doesn’t rely on it as he keeps the short more visual than expositional. This is also a blessing for the sake of the English dub script and voices which are surprisingly lackluster for being produced by Streamline Pictures way back in the early 90’s. You can see this at its worst in the most dialogue-heavy short “A Tale of Two Robots” which adds in too much for the English script. There might be some vindictiveness given how the short appears as World War 2 propaganda with the Japanese and English facing off in a 19th century setting with rickety giant robots. Despite the national leaning, it is rather hilarious for its limitations of technology, the amusing English dialogue recorded in Japanese and that this short is staged as third part of a trilogy that does not exist.

There are some more light and artistic additions as well in the form of “Cloud”, Mao Lambo’s segment about a robot walking through time to eventually become a real human. It’s beautifully rendered the way the rise and fall of humanity is portrayed through flowing clouds. This is a sweet and somber short that helps break up the frenetic energy of other shorts.

The most stereotypically 80’s of all the shorts would be “Star Light Angel” (even the title sounds very 80’s). A teenage girl after recently experiencing a breakup finds herself getting lost in an amusement park where a robot employee begins falling in love with her. Complete with laser-light shows and bright neon colors, I can’t think of any other Japanese animation that encapsulates the decade so perfectly with its bubblegum tone of a music video. There’s even a shameless plug for Coke included which could only be more 80’s if Max Headroom was drinking it.

Last and certainly not least is “Nightmare”, a post-apocalyptic vision of the future where robots rule and one drunken human finds himself escaping death. There’s a tremendous amount of inspiration from the likes of Fantasia and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It’s the most noteworthy of the batch not just for its stunningly intricate animation, but for touching on serious tones of robotization in a playful manner. This is perhaps one of the most defining aspects of anime that can achieve a thoughtfulness to darker subjects and find a way to transform them into unique works of art.

As far as anthology films go, Robot Carnival offers a lot of bang for the buck with a large number of shorts from tremendously talented artists. There are so many styles and tones present that there’s a little something for anyone seeking an animated sci-fi experience. With its operatic presentation and breathtaking animation, it’s the anime equal of Fantasia. And I’m aware that’s a lofty mantle to bestow, but it’s deservingly so as a unique experiment and a springboard for the talented anime directors of the 1990’s.